LOS ANGELES (CN) – Former writers and editors of the alternative newspaper LA Weekly who were fired en masse last month want advertisers to boycott their former employer, a move they hope will force the publication’s new owners to sell.
Village Voice media sold the publication to Semanal Media, a group of investors who have donated to Republican candidates and have ties to conservative groups. Brian Calle, former vice president of the conservative think tank Claremont Institute and former opinion editor for the Orange County Register, is the public face of the weekly’s new management team and one of the key investors.
LA Weekly, Los Angeles’ go-to guide for events, hyperlocal journalism and music recommendations, rests in the hands of people from outside the city who do not understand the communities they intend to cover, but who plan to keep the same name on the front door. That scares former LA Weekly music columnist Jeff Weiss.
“I think the city deserves better,” Weiss said in an interview. “I know that a lot of people think that.”
Weiss spearheaded a boycott campaign aimed at toppling the new owners and forcing them to sell the company.
The #BoycottLAWeekly hashtag began after Semanal Media fired all but one staff writer from the publication on Nov. 29, a move that sent shockwaves across Los Angeles and the media landscape.
Longtime advertisers have pulled ads and a recent food event was canceled by LA Weekly due to public pressure, according to Weiss.
Earlier this week, food writer and curator of the newspaper’s Tacolandia food festival Bill Esparza announced on Twitter he was cutting ties with the publication.
“I can no longer be a part of this event,” Esparza wrote. “I won’t support (Brian Calle) or his band of LA hating investors.”
Esparza said the event brought in 8,000 attendees in the last two years, with over 120 vendors from Los Angeles, San Diego, Mexico and other locations.
Voice Media, LA Weekly, and Semanal Media did not respond to email requests for interviews.
Shortly after taking over LA Weekly, the new management team took to social media to ask for unpaid story submissions from Los Angeles writers. The public backlash prompted that message to be taken down, but not before people noticed the message referenced "Angelinos" which seemed to rub salt in the wounds of Angelenos across the city.
According to the OC Weekly, Semanal Media has hired the public relations firm Sunshine and Sachs to do damage control.
Weiss said, “These owners had such contempt for the writers, editors and even the readers. They thought we would just get on board.”
Semanal investor Michael Mugel, CEO of Red Mountain Group Inc. has donated at least $25,000 to the committee Trump Victory in 2016, and fellow investor Andrew Bequer donated $2,500 to Marco Rubio for President in 2016, according to the OC Weekly. Calle has written libertarian-leaning opinion pieces for Southern California News Group and reviewed “Atlas Shrugged” for Breitbart.
Los Angeles-based attorney David Welch of DR Welch Attorneys at Law is another investor, who also happens to specialize in cannabis law. On LA’s NPR affiliate KCRW, Calle told Madeleine Brand, host of Press Play, that Semanal Media would double LA Weekly’s coverage of the cannabis industry. Cannabis will provide a steady revenue stream for the weekly when it becomes legal for recreational use in January.
Weiss said cannabis dispensaries are targeted in the boycott, along with restaurants, clubs and gentlemen’s clubs.
“Who wants to take out an ad that will be funneled to ultra-conservative causes?” Weiss asked.
Also an advertiser, KCRW has pulled away from the LA Weekly. A representative said the radio station has not had any contact with the new management at LA Weekly, but one of its advertisements did appear in a recent issue.
“This is a holdover from our prior relationship. We will be asking them to refrain from using any of our assets until we reevaluate the relationship,” the KCRW representative said.
Record-store paradise Amoeba Music in Hollywood and concert promoter Spaceland Presents also pulled ads from LA Weekly.
According to Weiss, the goal of the boycott is to get Semanal Media to sell the publication.
“The average person outside of Twitter will not keep up with (LA Weekly)’s movements. They’re banking on the ignorance of people and that to me is disgusting. I find that repugnant,” Weiss said.
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